“The story is what the players did.” ~ I don’t go on RPG forums very much anymore, but some years ago, whenever the topic of “story” would come up, Michael Mornard (One of Gary Gygax‘s original players and the creator of the gelatinous cube) would chime in with the previous quote. These days Michael and I interact as friends on Facebook and I am much more likely to see him say “Most people are booger eating morons.” Both quotes make me smile.
The days of arguing about “the one true way” are behind me, and I have since realized the futility of bickering about bias and preference. However it can be useful to identify different types of intentions and design in both players and RPGs. Some styles of play emphasize “story before”, that is, a planned sequence of events is prepared beforehand and there is a definite path for the players to take. Other styles of play emphasize “story now“, where the decisions of everyone at the table are guided by the intentional creation of a story in the moment. Another style of play emphasizes “story after“, where there is no sequence of events planned, and decisions are guided by something other than what would be good for the story.
No matter what style of play a particular game supports or a particular group prefers to engage in, one thing is true. When the game session is over, the books and the dice have been put away, and the players go on with the rest of their lives, we have the memories of what happened. The jaded among us may believe that “semper memoria praeterita bona”, but I believe that it is a good thing that some moments stand out more than others. They are after all why we play.
RPGs have provided me with many memories no less vivid than those from “real life”. Sometimes these memories are from interactions at the player level, sometimes they are of those improbable rolls of the dice, sometimes they are from what happened at the character level or in the fiction itself, and often they are curious mixture of in and out of game elements. I even have clear memories of reading an RPG book for the first time or a particular discussion.
The memories I have from RPG sessions are full of laughter, full of tension, and full of surprise, elation, or dismay at the rolls of the dice. They contain a mixture of wonderful, terrible, dramatic, hilarious, moving, triumphant, awesome, poignant, and disturbing moments. They are full of forging and reinforcing the bonds of friendship. They contain many moments of discovery and revelation at the level of the fiction, at the level of learning a new game, and sometimes even at the level of learning about others and myself.
When I started thinking about memories to share here I realized that there were simply too many to list. Every time I thought about one to mention I realized I would feel bad about not mentioning 10 others just as relevant. Perhaps I’ll mention some in the video. Maybe I’ll talk about them another time here. In any event, these memories are mine and they actually happened. I didn’t read them a story or watch them on TV. I was an active participant in those events. I didn’t just watch them on the news. I was there.
When I look back upon these memories I could tell you stories, stories about what we did…